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CLOSING THE GAP FOR VISION

Blind villagers share hope after regaining sight

Taita Taveta is a cataract epidemic region in Kenya, but residents cannot afford treatment

In Summary

• Gildon encountered a red spitting cobra in his chicken-rearing farm. Before he could retreat, the cobra shot venom into his right eye.

• 248 sight-restoring cataract surgeries were conducted during the recent Fred Hollows Foundation eye camp in Taita Taveta.

Gildon Geti
Gildon Geti
Image: FILE

After retiring from public service recently, Gildon Geti did not imagine he would one day live as a blind man. 

But for one year, he has been partially blind after what he believes was a spit of venom from a red spitting cobra.

Gildon was a driver in one of the government’s ministries and with his retirement benefits, he was able to set up a chicken-rearing farm.

 
 
 

The business thrived and expanded to a point where it could roughly hold 500 egg laying layers. For a while, everything seemed to work out as planned and Gildon comfortably relaxed at home and reminisced his good old days.

But one evening as he was winding up his day’s activities last year, he encountered a red spitting cobra in his chicken-rearing farm. Before he could retreat, the red spitting cobra shot venom into his right eye.

"Determined to put up a fight, I attempted to kill the snake but it managed to slither away," he says.

With an irritating pain in the eye, he walked away back to his house hoping the pain would subside.

"There was no improvement, and so I sought help from the local dispensary where I was prescribed some eye drops to help get rid of the inflammation but nothing seemed to change," he says.

In less than a month, Gildon became partially blind, which he believes was caused by the spit of venom.

Since then, life took a turn for the worst. With limited vision, he spent most of his time indoors and needed constant help from his wife which adversely affected his family’s lifestyle and the chicken-rearing business. As a result of financial constraints, Gildon opted to tackle his situation with a brave face hoping that things will change.

 
 
 
 

Early this year, he was informed of an eye camp in Taita Taveta organised by The Fred Hollows Foundation and supported through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program.

Sceptical that his eyesight could be restored as venom is always poisonous Gildon hesitantly presented himself at the facility. It was here that he discovered he had cataract before undergoing surgery. Having a successful surgery done on his eye, Gildon was all smiles and couldn’t wait to get home.

More than 3,000 people were treated and 248 sight –restoring cataract surgeries were conducted during the eye camp. Many people who could not afford surgery were also treated for free right at the hospital.

FHF-Kenya said Taita Taveta being a cataract epidemic region in Kenya, the foundation is determined to end avoidable blindness not only in the region but also in the country as a whole.

Mary Wada
Mary Wada
Image: COURTESY

Another beneficiary was Mary Wada, who was first diagnosed with diabetes five years ago.

Wada says she carefully managed the disease, taking medication as she continued with her daily life at the farm in Ungani, Taita Taveta.

But soon she noticed the appearance of a “floater” in her right eye. “It looked like a water bubble,” Wada said. Having had floaters before, she knew it would disappear after a while. This one persisted though.

As she got down to farming with her granddaughter, also named Mary, she realised that something was amiss with her vision. “I couldn’t see my plants,” she said, looking frustrated.

Time and again, she would invade in her neighbours’ farm eventually destroying their crops. It took effort from her aging husband to intervene on her behalf as the neighbours couldn’t understand that it was her eye condition that caused her to do so.

Not knowing what was the cause of her eye problem, Wada was quick to associate it with old age. Having that in mind, seeking medical attention wasn’t even an option. She would occasionally complain of how her farming activities have been disrupted and resorted to religion hoping that her sight would be restored to normalcy.

Her granddaughter, a high school student at the time, made the sacrifice to care for her ailing grandmother. She took charge of the house and assisted her grandmother in her movement, ensuring she has taken a shower and taking care of the normal house chores at the same time juggling with schoolwork. Despite the challenges she faced at home, the young student still managed to achieve good grades enough to enable her to pursue a career in teaching.

Through the community outreach, young Mary heard about eye camp in Taita Taveta organised by The Fred Hollows Foundation and supported through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

She says she was optimistic that this was going to be her grandmother’s breakthrough. She talked her grandmother into it, eventually winning her trust and they eventually made their way to Taita Sub-County Hospital. It was here that Mary was diagnosed with bilateral cataract and surgery was performed on both her eyes.

When it was time to remove the bandage, the faces of both women indicated excitement and tension. “I was more than relieved when the doctor took the bandage off my eye and I could see again.” Wada exclaimed through tears. Taking a quick look around her surroundings, she gazed with amusement and embraced her granddaughter.

“I have never been hopeful as I was that I could have my eyesight restored. I am more thankful to doctors for enabling me to get my eyesight back. I don’t know who they are but am sure the Almighty will bless them immensely.”